It is hard imagining a play without any whimsical and magical twists that makes the story larger than life. The settings in shows alone can stretch through time and space until they bear no resemblance to the modern-day London theatregoers know today. From love at first sight to literal sword fights, theatre is often tackling topics so far off from reality you can feel transported into a world of fiction. When I watch theatre, I forget about my worries with university or anxieties about the future and immerse myself in the lives of those leading a revolution in France by constantly singing (seriously, constantly). For some, theatre can be an escape from the normal lives they are living into something much grander than we could ever dream of. While I love the idea of being whisked off into an imaginative world crafted by playwrights, I understand that theatre serves more than just this purpose. Many people simply want to hear their stories told. South London is not filled with superheroes or damsels in distress, so why should they be the only characters we see on stage? Frequently, the shows that take a look at everyday life and build their story from the mundane into the extraordinary are more powerful than those that start at the extraordinary and are never able to work themselves down to a relatable level.
Opening our Autumn season of shows is HighTide and Nottingham Playhouse’s production of LIT. This show doesn’t rely on creating crazy characters or scenarios, and that is where the real magic of this production lies. Inspired by interviews with young mothers in the prison system, LIT represents an often-overlooked demographic in a show that is universally relatable. The main character Bex is just a normal girl going through the endless (and unfortunately relatable) struggle to find love. Most teenagers have been in similar situations when seeking out love from the wrong places. While we won’t all have our exact dating lives replicated on stage, we can all find ties to the characters that make us much more invested in the production. We all know what it is like to be burnt, and the time it takes to recover from that. This allows us to get lost in Bex’s story while reflecting on our own lives, more than a story with love at first sight ending in a happily ever after. These sorts of productions can give us closure from our own experiences by seeing characters find their own peace by the end of the show.
It makes all the difference for someone to be able to see an accurate depiction of themselves on stage. In our October production for under-11’s, Emily Rising, Emily’s parents are divorced and their complicated relationship shapes the storyline. While this causes complications and brings some harsh reality to the magical puppet show, it is a part of life that needs to be shown more, especially in family theatre. As a kid, it would have made a world of a difference for me to see divorced parents in a show that had a happy ending for the whole family, not just another evil stepmother. Seeing the main character with this family scenario still being able to be happy shows children from divorced households that their lives can be just as adventurous and fulfilling as the typical children’s theatre characters we are used to seeing from perfect, married parents.
Our summer production of Othello: Remixed was another perfect example of making theatre as accessible as it is entertaining by making it relatable. Audiences were excited whenever the performers mentioned Nando’s or boxing to replace the less recognisable Shakespearian points of reference. The production retained themes of jealousy and betrayal, in a way that was easier for the audience to connect with and understand the tragedy perhaps more than ever before. All of a sudden, Intermission Theatre Company has sparked a passion for Shakespeare or theatre in general for those who have always felt disconnected from it. By creating shows featuring characters they can see themselves in, they have been invited into a world where they can be the main character in any production without any barriers.
So, how can we continue to make theatre as relatable as possible? We have to make the step towards supporting new writing to ensure that theatre is still doing its primary job of storytelling. Here at Omnibus, we do this with our scratch night Engine Room which is a platform for new works by emerging and established theatre-makers. The audience gives feedback and ideas to the creators, putting themselves right in the heart of the creative process. Theatres have to look further than producing the same renditions of the same shows that have become out of touch with current events and the current audiences. Let’s change the pattern. We want to be able to laugh, cry, and dream with characters on stage as they approach obstacles that we have also faced. So, let’s bring these kinds of characters to life. If we can do this by continuing to produce shows with themes that capture our audiences’ hearts and make them feel like they have found a home in a production, we can truly say we’ve accomplished our job as a theatre that both entertains and listens to our audience.